In my last piece, I looked at three Canucks who were given “prove it” contracts by Canucks general manager Jim Benning. These were all good deals by Benning because he put the onus on the player to prove themselves before deciding to either give them a gaudy contract or go in a different direction.
However, Benning’s signings have been a bag of mixed pucks. Along with the reasonable deals he handed out, there were some ones that weren’t as savvy. Benning would have been wise to give these three players one-year deals instead of multi-year extensions.
Markstrom has delivered a Jekyll and Hyde performance throughout his North American professional hockey career. Despite his lack of NHL success, Benning remains convinced that Markstrom is ready for NHL duty this season. He believes in it so much that he decided to sign Markstrom to a two-year contract that sees him getting paid more than Eddie Lack this season.
Benning would like to see Miller play 55-60 games. Markstrom the rest. #Canucks
— Ann Schmaltz (@annschmaltz) September 17, 2015
It’s not hard to see why Benning is so enthusiastic about Markstrom after his jaw-dropping performance in the AHL last season. He posted a 1.88 GAA and a .934 save percentage during the regular season, and followed that up with a 2.11 GAA and a .925 save percentage during the Calder Cup playoffs. Markstrom has put up good numbers in the AHL before, but last year was far and away his best season playing hockey in North America.
Still, his lack of success at the NHL level has to be concerning. The goalie who was once dubbed at the best player not playing in the NHL has posted a 3.19 GAA and a .896 save percentage through 50 NHL games. To be fair, most of those games were played behind a porous Florida Panthers defence, and he has only played seven games in two seasons while wearing a Canucks uniform.
The potential is there, but Markstrom’s track record shows that maybe a two-year deal wasn’t the safest play. If he continues to put up similar numbers in the NHL, then Benning will want to get out of this deal after Year 1. Markstrom hasn’t proven anything at the NHL level just yet, so a one-year deal would have made the most sense for Benning & Co.
After the Brandon Sutter trade, it was clear that Canucks brass wasn’t too pleased with the play of Nick Bonino last season. So their answer for addressing that issue was trading for a guy who scored less than Bonino last season and will make $1.4 million more than him this season.
While many believe Benning got the worst of that trade from July 28, Sutter could end up exceeding expectations in Vancouver this season in an elevated role. During the Canucks’ first day of training camp in Prince George, head coach Willie Desjardins already had him centering a line with Radim Vrbata and Sven Baertschi. Sutter isn’t known as a playmaking center, but could put up some points if he centers those two for the majority of the season.
The keyword in all of this is “could.” Sutter could be a good fit for the Canucks, but he didn’t prove anything to the organization before Benning signed him to a five-year, $21 million extension with a no-trade clause for the first three years of his contract. That basically makes Sutter a Canuck for the next four seasons before he even plays a game for this team. Regardless of how well Benning thinks Sutter will play, the signing is a huge risk by the organization. They would have been better off to wait until midseason before signing an extension. Then they at least would have known what they have in Sutter.
Benning gave Sbisa a three-year extension in April for a cap hit of $3.6 million, and the extension remains as questionable now as it did on the day it was reported. The main question being asked of Sbisa after his first full year in Vancouver: why is he playing in the top six on defence?
Sbisa played on the third pairing with Kevin Bieksa last season and they formed one of the most horrendous defensive pairs in the league. The lack of success in their own end was most noticeable during the playoffs. They were both the only Canuck defenders to post a Fenwick percentage below 50 percent, with Sbisa being the worst on the team at 42.1 percent. One would like to think Sbisa was brought down by Bieksa, but he had some of the worst possession statistics on the team in both the regular season and the playoffs.
The one thing in Sbisa’s game that stands out is his physicality. He was the most physical Canucks defender during the regular season after he registered 139 hits. No other Canuck defender even registered 100 hits last season.
— Dee ☕ (@forevercanuck) September 10, 2015
At only 25-years old, there is definitely still some room for improvement for Sbisa, and Benning now has him signed through what should be his prime playing years. However if he doesn’t step up his defensive game, then the Canucks will be burdened with a bad contract. With the signing of Matt Bartowski and the inevitable promotion of Frank Corrado, the Canucks have two more defencemen to keep Sbisa honest. He will have to elevate his game in order to stay in the lineup.
All statistics courtesy of War-on-ice.com. All salary cap information courtesy of Capfriendly.com
KPU Journalism Graduate. Trevor has been writing for The Hockey Writers since October 2014. He has contributed articles related to the Ottawa Senators, Vancouver Canucks, and other issues/stories regarding the game of hockey. Trevor currently lives in White Rock, B.C.